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Federal Politics

Politicians: Don't Mine Muslim Community to Score Points, Advocate Says

'This is not an issue that should be politicized.'

Jeremy Nuttall 11 Mar

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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A diversity advocate has urged Canadian politicians to refrain from using the Muslim community to score political points. 

Recently, opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of vilifying Muslims and using fear of terrorism to gain support. The Tories, in turn, have accused the opposition of supporting cultural practices that oppress women, such as wearing the niqab head covering.

But Michael Bach of the Toronto-based Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, said politicians should leave Muslims out of their political jabs.

"I think this is not an issue that should be politicized," he said. "Because we are talking about something that is a deeply-held belief."

For months, the depiction of Muslims has become a source of contention among political parties.

For example, on Monday night in Toronto, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau accused the Conservative party of "fostering prejudice" towards Muslims by using the niqab issue as a fund-raising tool.

The niqab is a religious head garment worn by many Muslim women. It became a political issue when a Mississauga, Ont. woman insisted on wearing the garment during a citizenship ceremony. A federal court sided with her, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper appealed the decision, saying wearing the garment is "not the way we do things here."

The quote has appeared in Conservative fundraising literature. On Monday night, Trudeau said the prime minister's comment pit Canadians against one other.

"Canadians are being encouraged by their government to be fearful of one another," Trudeau said in his speech. "For me, this is both unconscionable and a real threat to Canadian liberty."

Earlier this month, the Conservative party used a propaganda video from the Somali-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, on a recent post on the party's official Facebook page.

In late January, Conservative MP Chungsen Leung apologized to Iranian Canadians in Toronto after asking, "If you like Iran so much, why do you come to Canada?" in response to questions about difficulties faced getting Canadian visas.

Opposition on attack

These controversies have put opposition parties on the attack. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair recently described some of the Conservative party's recent comments on Facebook and party advertising as "shocking."

On Tuesday, Harper defended the party's actions in question period, framing the wearing of the niqab as one of women's rights. Trudeau responded by saying Harper's description was a "cruel joke" because it claims to liberate people while dictating what they wear.

Meanwhile, Jason Kenney, minister of defence, defended yesterday on Twitter his party's record on inclusiveness.

"Proud to belong to the party that eliminated racial, religious and ethnic discrimination from the immigration system in 1962," read one in a series of tweets from Kenney.

"Contra J. Trudeau's demagoguery, overall immigration levels, & immigration of Muslims to Canada, has increased under this Conservative govt," said another.

Though he doesn't "necessarily" believe the Conservatives are stoking prejudice against Muslims, Bach said the party is on the wrong side of the niqab debate in an attempt to appeal to the party's base.

He said politicians are attempting to "paint a picture of the enemy" but using an outdated brush, which ignores the fact people are individuals and it is unfair to label groups.

He said talking about positive actions the government has taken in the past does not excuse current actions.

"There are things that governments have done that they should be proud of, and things governments have done that they should be ashamed of," he said. "Nobody gets a pass on their behaviour when it comes to inclusiveness."  [Tyee]

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